- Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.
Saturday, January 30, 2010
But beyond the values he's expressing here, this actually offers useful information about the decision making process and what his policies are. Which is really what this is all about, isn't it.
Friday, January 29, 2010
GLEE CLUB is returning. This popular play originally ran as a part of the Antidepressant Festival at The Brick this past summer.
James Comtois called it one his favorites in 2009.
Opening March 3rd at the Access, produced by Blue Coyote Theater Group.
More details as they become available!
Looking for something to do on Saturday? How about this?
"Phantasmaphile proudly presents a screening of the film, FOR THE NEXT 7 GENERATIONS, a documentary about a group of female shamans who call themselves the Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers."
It starts at 8pm at Observatory in Gowanus. R train to Union Street.
Looks to be very interesting stuff. While you're there, you can check out Vision Quest.
All of this is presented by my talented and brilliant girlfriend.
Thursday, January 28, 2010
"One weakness of the book is its lack of reference to self-production, an avenue which many experimental and non-traditional playwrights have taken: if the system is as sick as it is painted here, then perhaps the system should be abandoned in its entirety. Of all the playwrights surveyed, two outstanding absences from the list of participants in the back of the book are Young Jean Lee and Richard Maxwell, both of whom formed their own companies; lacking bricks-and-mortar theatres, they produce their work where they can, without the overhead that an institutional theatre requires. It's true that many self-producers may work out of a sense of their own vanity. It's also true that many believe that self-production, in the face of the challenges that working within institutional theatres represent, is the best way of developing their work: where they're least likely to give in to the temptation of compromise, and most likely to see it bodied on stage, where it belongs. It may cost more, in the end: but given the thin scraps offered to playwrights now, as this study attests, the reward is not in dollars but in seeing one's work performed as first envisioned: and this is most likely where the theatrical advances in America will be made."
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Can it move the gridlocked Congress? Hard to say. But I can't imagine anyone else in his role that I'd trust more to get the job done.
Monday, January 25, 2010
1. I am very happy to see this book bring these issues into a national conversation. Much (much, much) of what is in this book has been picked over on the theatrical blogosphere for some time now. It was great to read these things in a published edition. Hopefully it will spark useful conversation where it matters. Thanks to TDF for publishing this exceptional book. For all my tiny critiques, it's important that work like this is done, and done often.
2. I believe that the issues described here are not unique to our art or industry. Ask any journalist if there are systemic issues that must be addressed in his or her industry? Ask painters if it's easy to make a living in the United States. Ask the world of poetry where its funding comes from, about the prevalence of certain academic institutions, and how the greatest living poets make ends meet. Hell, read a book about Wall Street and its constant battles with corruption. Or read about how arcane Congressional rules now make it impossible for even a political party with a mandate to make great change. In short: we're not alone. We're just as screwed up as everyone else.
3. Our view of the value of creators in the US is upside down. We value distribution and middle-management over creation. We pay the gatekeepers; we pay the decision makers; we pay the marketers. But we shrug at the naivety of creative artists who want to make a living. The very people who produce the fuel that many institutions run on are paid less than the people who write grants on their behalf.
This is not to belittle the hard and wonderful work done by development staff and marketing staff and literary staff. It's just a reminder that we must rethink how artists are compensated.
4. Self Production isn't a bandwagon people recently got on. I've been hearing "self-produce" since I got started writing. Everyone has. I just think people need to know how to do it.
5. I suspect that most of us bloggers will view this book as evidence of the fundamental correctness of our previously expressed ideas. Whatever they may be.
6. I would never like to hear the word 'ecosystem' again to describe something that is made by human beings. Our theatrical system isn't an ecosystem that grew naturally up out of the soil. We're not helpless seeds planted in the ground, hoping for some sunlight. We all take part in the system and we create it anew each day by our participation. I'm not someone who believes that this system is fundamentally broken and needs to be tossed out. I believe we made it, and therefore we are not beholden to it. We can change it, improve it, and make it work for us.
7. Finally, if you're a playwright and you read Outrageous Fortune, it would be easy to get discouraged.
Don't be discouraged.
If there's something truly wonderful about this book, is that it's evidence that everyone is scrambling to figure out how to hear you, and how to make you heard. Take comfort in that. There are thousands of people out there that love plays and want to see great plays performed. They are hoping that when they sit down in a theater, and the lights go out, that your heartbreaking or hilarious play is the one they're going to see. Sure, there are many roadblocks, many mistakes, but at the center of all this hard work, all the meetings and interviews, is a powerful belief that theater matters, and that your work is important.
Keep at it.
Sunday, January 24, 2010
Friday, January 22, 2010
Thursday, January 21, 2010
Here are links to the posts so far. It's incredibly generous of him, and I certainly hope you'll read these posts, share them with others, and discuss.
Part 1: An Introduction
Part 2: Getting Started
Part 3: Landing the first show
Part 4: Moving Forward, Some Words of Caution
Part 5: Fundraising
"So in reality, what's the population balance? Counting the new Republican Senator Scott Brown from Massachusetts, the 41 Republicans in the Senate come from states representing just over 36.5 percent of the total US population. The 59 others (Democratic plus 2 Independent) represent just under 63.5 percent. (Taking 2009 state populations from here. If you count up the totals and split a state's population when it has a spit delegation, you end up with about 112.3 million Republican, 194.7 million Democratic + Indep. Before Brown's election, it was about 198 million Democratic + Ind, 109 million Republican.)
Let's round the figures to 63/37 and apply them to the health care debate. Senators representing 63 percent of the public vote for the bill; those representing 37 percent vote against it. The bill fails."
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Remember that previous titles include:
The Hell Festival
The $ellout Festival
Film Festival: A Theater Festival
The Pretentious Festival (where I performed "An Interview with the Author")
The Antidepressant Festival (which debuted "Glee Club")
What's next? (Drumroll please)
The Too Soon Festival
by Mark Strand
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Monday, January 18, 2010
"According to the study, the average playwright earns $25,000 to $39,000 annually, with about 62 percent of playwrights making less than $40,000 and nearly a third pulling in less than $25,000.Hm. Don't those numbers seem optimistically high?"
Well, if I read the study correctly, that includes income that's not related to theatre. Furthermore, playwrights surveyed said that 50% of their income, on average, is not theatre-related. And what IS theatre-related includes things that are not specifically writing (21% said Teaching for example). They reported 15% of their income from royalties, for example. That means something like $6,000.00 on average.
I wasn't surveyed, but there are peers of mine who were so I feel like I can speak to this myself, un-anonymously. My non-theatre related job is being an Assistant Director at a non-profit and I earn, in that job alone, well over the average noted above annually. How much have I earned from writing over the last five years? Maybe $3000? If you include non-theatre gigs? If you included only playwriting... I dunno. Half of that? Less?
I'm far from a mid-career writer...I'm still fumbling my way out of obscurity. But if you included my non-theatre related income in this survey, I'm a top earner.
Sunday, January 17, 2010
Have you seen these totally evil and weird pro-high fructose corn syrup ads? That basically say "Stop being such a concerned parent and drink the goddamn Kool-Aid." Like literally.
And there's also this really great response to it. Because the workers have seized the means of production!
Friday, January 15, 2010
It's called Vision Quest. Details are here.
Thursday, January 14, 2010
In short: theaters use the products playwrights create to write grants and pay salaries. Some of the most successful playwrights in the country earn less than $40,000 a year in this system, from a hodgepodge of sources, half of those sources unrelated to theatre.
That is, fundamentally, f*cked.
Okay. So here's a bit more detail.
The second chapter is titled The Lives & Livelihoods of Playwrights
It's packed. The subjects range from the prevalence of MFA programs; to gender and racial representation; to the nuts and bolts of income as a playwright; to What Playwrights Want (hint: its productions). I'm not going to even sort of attempt to summarize it.
I will make a few observations.
First, a big takeaway from the chapter is how the theatrical farm system focuses on young and new playwrights, not just new plays. This means that there's a sort of donut hole for mid-career playwrights. As long as you're new, or new-ish, or seen as fresh, there are grants and programs that want to train you and make use of you. After that, it's sort of "Good luck. Not famous? Considered teaching?"
Second, the chapter becomes absolutely weirdly flummoxed and apologetic whenever it discovers evidence that non-white writers are getting produced and even receiving decent commissions. I found it mystifying. The lady doth protest too much. It could be that dedicated efforts towards making stages more diverse are having a positive effect. That's good, right? What am I missing?
Third, the term "emerging" should be taken out and shot. Of course. No one likes it and no one wants to use it. The best observation was that the term emerging serves a purpose for more than grant-writing...it establishes the writer as a sort of unformed trainee in the midst of professionals who are here to help. If you are emerging, you are not yet a butterfly.
Fourth, playwrights are paid less than administrative assistants. Whoever is doing the budgeting is totally fucking up.
Fifth, I really wish this book did not rely so heavily on anonymous quotes. It is, in fact, full of them. To the teeth. There are no attributions. (There is a list at the end of the book, and you can play guessing games with it if you like.) I don't get it. In the New York Times, they try not to source anonymously, and if they do, they now insist on giving a reason ("speaking with the condition of anonymity because they did not want to put the President in a difficult position"). I would have preferred that. That's not really chapter specific so much as an issue with the style of the book itself.
Onwards and upwards.
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Some disconnected and quickly written thoughts...
The first chapter is entitled Dialogue in the Dark: Playwrights and Theatres. It is stark and familiar. It describes a landscape of not-for-profit theaters that operate on a tremendous scale (two produce on Broadway); that have replaced commercial producers as the arbiters of new work; and the playwrights who find themselves somewhere in this complex system of developers and decision-makers.
I suspect everyone who reads this will find in it confirmation of an existing view, as this chapter presents a full breadth of well-worn arguments. It acknowledges that artistic directors both believe new work is in abundance and also that it is scarce. It quotes the Richard Nelson speech that decries the ascension of a belief that playwrights are in need of outside "help;" but it also acknowledges that playwrights seem to write increasingly unfinished plays. It talks about how great (if erratic) Joseph Papp was. It's good, balanced journalism in that way.
It's a picture of, I'm afraid, a community of artists that have utterly unremarkable frustrations and concerns. Some playwrights believe that those who are making decisions about quality have the wrong measuring stick; some artistic directors fear that playwrights self-indulgent or impatient. Money, profit - we are afraid at how they corrupt the decision making process. In the same breath, we wonder if the not-for-profit model has divorced producers from their passions and might not be preferable. We want producers to be wild, passionate entrepreneurs; not-for-profits to run like there's no such thing as paying the bills; and everyone to embrace the plays we think are really good. We want to be bold. We want the pure of heart leaders of our well-funded institutions to say "Damn the ticket sales, damn the grant writers, damn the Board, damn it all, I love this play and we're going to do it even if it means I lose my job!"
And we want everyone (as we'll see in later chapters) to get paid for this.
Of course we do.
There isn't an industry or collective in a capitalist society that doesn't, at times, feel like it's hard to make decisions, that money wins over integrity, that makes compromises for the sake of survival, etc. etc.
I know that I am asked or expected to be appalled by this. I'm not. Frankly, even if the entire American public decided that it loved plays and couldn't get enough of them and reallocated its family budgets to cut out TV entirely and just see new plays; we'd still have quibbles about whose plays are being produced and how often.
Look at the film industry. It's massively popular, tremendously rich, and has delivery models that are far more extensive than ours. We still hear about little independent films that barely get their due or never move past the development stage. We hear about how hard it is for guys like Terry Gilliam, or even Martin Scorsese, to get funding for their movies.
That is not to dismiss the complaints and concerns entirely presented here. The gap between playwrights and artistic directors/producers/board members on an institutional level does seem to be widening. And, of course, there's a bit of natural paranoia created by all the barriers. I'm just not surprised.
One thing that struck me in particular was the expression of frustration that there aren't companies that coalesce around a playwright anymore. I don't see that, personally. Maybe that's true on the scale of regional theaters 'filling slots'...but on the Off-Off scale, I see it all the time.
I have been working with a single theater company (more or less) in New York City since about 2004. Just over six years of productions. Do we produce on the scale of Manhattan Theater Club? No. Have I gotten reviews and publications and all that other nice stuff? Yes. Do I still work, and work hard, in an unrelated field to make ends meet? Yes, yes I do. Still, when I read chapters about the nomadic lives of playwrights now, I felt a bit happy to know that's not my position.
In fact, lots of playwright driven theaters exists Off-Off Broadway. Electric Pear (Ashlin Halfnight); The Brick (all artist driven); Nosedive (James Comtois); InVerse (Kirk Wood Bromley); Blue Coyote (me, David Johnston, David Foley and others); Gideon (Mac Rogers), Flux (Gus produces his own plays, certainly). I could go on. This is common in Off-Off Broadway.
So...what does that leave me with? Mixed emotions. There's a part of me that feels very real revulsion at being painted a picture of a world of new plays that is inhospitable. There's a bit of poison in it, and I can't place exactly where. Maybe it's simply the sense that this chapter is more dedicated to airing frustrations that presenting solutions. It is, of course, just one chapter.
There's another part that thinks we need to have this discussion and I'm very happy to see it presented in a professional, forthright manner. If the picture ain't pretty, that's what we're here to learn.
Onwards and upwards.
Will be writing about chapter 2 tomorrow.
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
There's lots to think about here, and I don't want to belittle the very important work that's been done here...but it's not like when I got into theatre I thought "Now here's a place with lots of ways to make a living!" Is anyone actually surprised that the market affects decision making, or that it's nearly impossible to make a living writing plays or that it's hard to get people to do challenging work?
Also, so far, the book is really about a world I don't live in. Off Off Broadway, for all its lack of funding and eye-rolling, is where I've spent my career. You know where to find theaters that are dedicated to certain playwrights, do oddball work, aren't slaves to corporate thinking and go pretty quickly from the page to the stage? Off-Off Broadway. Off-Loop. The problems that they have at the Guthrie and the Public are pretty much problems I don't contend with. I aspire to the problems described in Outrageous Fortune so far. Sad, maybe? Who can say?
There's a truly American prayer: "Please, Lord, grant me the problems of more successful people."
Okay, take that for what it's worth. Just getting into the book. More to come.
Here are the details.
Monday, January 11, 2010
Friday, January 08, 2010
So here's the thing: I think if you're a playwright with access to a small budget, you really should know how to navigate "self-production." Even just a weekend of performances of your play on its feet.
So...I'd like to invite anyone who does self-produce in the city to either comment or send me an e-mail at mattfr - at - gmail.com and give us a how-to guide. Tell us what a playwright needs, where he or she should go, where the affordable spaces are in your experience, etc, etc. I'll post whatever is sent to me that's thorough, and of course, comment away.
Imagine you just showed up in NYC, you've got a play burning a hole in your pocket, and you're will and able to save for one weekend of performances. This is bare minimum. Get your feet wet stuff. What would you tell yourself.
What is the Idiot's Guide to Self-Production in New York City?
Thursday, January 07, 2010
Freeman: You describe A Brief History of Murder as two independent yet interlocking plays. Not just a two-act play? What gives?
Lovejoy: Victims and Detectives are each several act plays in their own right. Putting them together we create some sort of ten act monstrosity (as opposed to two five act monstrosities!) They are also designed to work on their own, and there are subtle differences to the mechanics of how each one functions. Basically, if they were one massive play, the structural variations between the two would likely not work. Chronologically they both take place over roughly the same time period, and if the scenes were all jammed together it just wouldn't be as strong (or compelling) as presenting the two sides separately. Victims is sprawling. It has over twenty characters, all of them with complicated stuff going on in their lives both on the surface and underneath. Audiences will sort of just be dropped in the middle. In Detectives we mainly follow the private investigator and her allies on the police force as they try and figure out what the hell is going on. It ends being the more tightly focused play, and audiences have more of an opportunity to follow a protagonist (if they're into that sort of thing.)
Freeman: How would you say this new play compares/contrasts with your last hit show Adventure Quest?
Lovejoy: I'd say they are both similar in the sense that they play with and warp traditional structure, but they do so in wildly divergent ways. Adventure Quest was fun because it was based on a game. When the Hero gets stuck, the narrative screeches to a halt. If he doesn't know how to solve the puzzle he can't advance the plot. In Brief History Of Murder, when the detectives get stuck the narrative is still moving forward. So the way the structure gets warped and played with comes from a totally different direction (several, actually!) Basically, where Adventure Quest was more about reduction, limitation of actions, and enforcement of rules; Brief History is more about possibilities expanding, options increasing in both number and complexity, and rules blatantly getting broken (or contradicted by other rules.)
Freeman: There is gore. What is it about gore and fighting on stage that you think appeals to audiences?
Lovejoy: I think that varies on the person. Theater, film, TV, books, and really most art form can be a "safe" way to explore dark things. Some people love gore because it lets them exercise violent impulses they might have (see also Grand Theft Auto), some people are attracted to the thrilling nature of it, and some people are repulsed and confused as to why anyone would want to put themselves through seeing something like that (incidentally, those are probably the people truly repressing their demons.) I imagine - and hope - that we'll make a couple audience members nauseous. There is some wonderfully sick stuff happening. Though it isn't just about the gore. The gore is just one of many, many elements.
Freeman: Tell the readers why they should see A BRIEF HISTORY OF MURDER. Sell it!
Lovejoy: These two plays are a collaboration of approximately forty or fifty artists. There is a STAGGERING amount of talent from all sorts of places that has gone into creating A Brief History Of Murder. We have original music composition, scoring through most of both plays, choreography, multiple fights, gore, artsy photographic design, extra written content (the program - like all Sneaky Snake programs - is way more detailed and elaborate than it needs to be), twenty actors (in addition to several surprise voice over performances), uniquely created costume and set pieces, special FX make-up, multiple languages spoken onstage, and a complicated and involved story. In short - this thing is a BEAST. Also, there is a special ticket package (https://www.ovationtix.com/trs/store/122/pk/35215) that lets you see both shows for $25 (that's a full $11 off the second play. Or $5.50 off of both, pending on how your brain works.)
Wednesday, January 06, 2010
Read Kate's message below!
By formally setting goals and focusing on the benefits, you increase the likelihood that you’ll reach them and make 2010 the best year of your life! This is goal-setting for creative people, not boring read-it-in-a-book type stuff.
• identify goals you haven’t considered before
• learn how to prioritize your goals
• define “success” and learn how to measure it
• identify obstacles and make a plan to get around them
• develop partnerships to help you keep on track
• come away with the know-how and handouts to keep setting goals
• 3 hours of instruction
• a workbook to use on your own at home
• a one-to-one follow-up phone session with me, Kate Sandberg, Professional Coach
• 3 group accountability calls to keep you on track
The Make It Happen Now! workshop on January 16th from 2–5 at Ripley Grier Studios has limited seats. To sign up, go to www.katesandberg.com
My two-cents: Self produce. Do it. Why not? But don't give up on getting your plays in the hands of any many directors and producers as possible. A lot of the most successful people out there submit constantly. So, whatever the hypothetical conversation may be that's currently catnip for all us bloggers... do the work. Write good plays, submit them everywhere, meet people you like, and work with them.
As for the pursuit of "good plays" and "good playwrights" all I can say is...
God knows. There's no alchemical formula to making a good play, no check-list, no truly well-made play, no ideal. There's also no way to be developed to perfection. Plays are likely just as often ruined by development as helped. There's no way to tell.
One must use one's own judgment, as the artist, as the person with the most stake in the outcome. If you, as a writer, allow people with almost no personal stake in your success, who are not speaking with your voice, to guide what you present on stage...I'd say that's a mistake. But, of course, I'm generalizing desperately. We all are. Maybe you do a reading, and someone's Mom says the perfect thing to you over drinks. Maybe you do a reading and your favorite living writer shows up, and says something to you that is totally off-the-mark.
The only constant in your career is you. Everyone will be as helpful and helpless and destructive as, well, all people are.
I once took a class with a teacher that told us all that Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf is too long. Shakespeare wrote anti-feminist and anti-Semitic works . I can barely stand Shaw. I know people who think Arthur Miller blows. Tony Kushner has been rewriting his plays in front of the audience for years now. Neil Simon is dated. Half the world doesn't know what the hell to make of Beckett.
These are the best of the best. The classics. The giants. And even they have their valid detractors and their flaws. If you want to be one of them, you have to live with criticism. You can't serve the whims of artistic directors and the graduates of this or that university or what-have-you.
It's a shame that there's such a divide between the decision makers and the good work they seek. But it's out there. It can be found. And it is being found. And it will be. Sure, there's a lot of garbage, and there are writers who are exceptional that never get their due. It's a shame, but there it is. No cure for it. Everyone get their helmets on, take a deep breath, and run towards the battlefield.
To be clear: this is still head and shoulders above most movies you'll see. It's Terry Gilliam, and even his misfires are worth engaging with. For example: Tideland is nearly unwatchable. It's grotesque and ugly. It's impossible not to respect the sheer force of will it takes to get a movie like that made. But it doesn't mean I would ever watch it again.
Parnassus is infinitely more accessible and entertaining. It's just messy, rushed. There's fun stuff all over it, but I couldn't help but feel there was a better film lurking underneath.
It's nowhere near as off-tone as Brothers Grimm. Closer, maybe, to Baron Munchausen, which looks cool and has grand designs, but has a sort of unsatisfying finish.
So...worth checking out just because it's Gilliam, and has Heath Ledger's final performance (yes I do think he was a phenomenal performer) and there's not much out there that's like it. But it's not the return to form I'd hoped for.
Monday, January 04, 2010
During my year...
When is a Clock was published this year. Hooray for that.
Glee Club was produced as a part of the Antidepressant Festival. It was extremely well-received. There are plans in the works to see that play again soon, for a longer run, along with another of my previously produced works. Details as they become available.
Exposition was also produced this year. I'm particularly proud of it, and hope to see it revived. The cast was awesome. Plus, it was my first collaboration with Michael Gardner at the Brick. First of many I hope.
In the great expanse of space there is nothing to see but More, More, More received readings at Blue Coyote Theater Group and the Brick Theater. Both times viewed with general suspicion.
Bluebeard was completed and received a reading at the Access.
I presented a series of successful Playwrights in Conversation podcasts with nytheatre.com.
Was interviewed and linked to and generally not treated like a total asshole by Time Out.
I was the writer for the 5th Annual New York Innovative Theater Awards, which led to the opportunity to be the Senior Writer for the webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve.
Plus, some of my nearest and dearest had some great things happen. My brother Dan graduated, my brother Jeff went off to college, I got to spend more time with my family than I usually do, and my Mother and Father both retired (happily!). Pam's space in Gowanus is getting really popular and her blog has really taken off. Plus, she's curating her own shows now - a new one in just a few weeks.
All in all, not a bad year.
Happy New Year everyone.
"Glee Club was the feel-good tragedy of the year."